Herman Cain thinks I’m full of it.
At least that’s what he said after my friend Chuck Muth, president of Citizen Outreach, read the GOP presidential contender a portion of my Wednesday column. I claimed in print that straw poll results in Nevada and Florida (both of which Cain won) aren’t a good way to predict who will gain the nomination.
“He doesn’t have a clue,” Cain said after Muth read an excerpt of my piece to him during a Wednesday conference call. “He is stuck in that old paradigm of how things are normally determined when it comes to who’s the nominee.
“He’s obviously out of touch, along with a lot of other people in the media, with what real people are saying,” Cain continued. “The people that attend your event in Nevada, when I won that straw poll, the people that attend all of these events, there’s some real folk out here. And so, he is just ignoring the reality of what’s going on out there.”
And the kicker: “So my response to what he is saying is, he doesn’t have a clue. Stay tuned.”
Well, I most certainly will. But forgive me if I don’t change my mind.
There are, no doubt, plenty of people who want the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza to become president. I was impressed with his speech to Muth’s Conservative Leadership Conference in July, when he shared his personal story and how he’d apply the lessons he learned in business to running the government.
To a certain extent, Cain is benefitting from a lackluster Republican field. It’s as if would-be voters have arrived at the Ford dealership and are utterly unimpressed with the the Fusion, the Edge, the Explorer, even the Mustang and the Taurus and the steady, reliable F-150.
Instead, they gaze across the street and notice the Chevy dealership, with that sweet new Camaro, and they start to dream of driving that around instead.
People vote their dreams and their philosophy in the straw poll, when nothing’s on the line and there’s plenty of time to send a message. Maybe they like Cain’s 9/9/9 plan (a 9 percent tax on income, a 9 percent national sales tax and a 9 percent corporate profits tax). Maybe they like his fiery speaking style. Maybe they relate to what they perceive as his common-sense, down-to-earth demeanor. But that’s now.
Starting in January (thanks to Florida for moving up its primary and forcing us all to spend Christmas contemplating politics) things are going to change. When Iowa voters turn out for their caucus, New Hampshire residents to their primary and we in Nevada to our own caucus, the question will be different.
This may be old-paradigm thinking, but it won’t be about dreams and message-sending anymore. It will be about answering a simple question: Which of these guys (and gal) has the best chance of keeping President Barack Obama from winning a second term? Not who has “a” chance of winning. Who’s got the best chance of winning.
And the odds are, that’s not going to be Cain.
Yes, he won the Nevada straw poll. And yes, he won the Florida straw poll. And Washington state, Colorado and Georgia, too.
But guess what? The number of people who handed him those victories could easily fit into the Thomas & Mack Center, with plenty of room left over.
And while Cain refers to them as “real folk,” they’re really not. They’re politically involved followers of current events. And that sadly separates them from most of their fellow citizens. (As a political junkie myself, I feel their pain, even if I don’t share their positions.)
None of this should serve as discouragement to Cain fans, or those of Ron Paul (winner of the California straw poll), Michele Bachmann (winner of the Iowa straw poll) or Rick Santorum (winner of the Pennsylvania and South Carolina straw polls). Turning out and advocating for your candidate is what the American political system is all about.
But elections are won by those who show up. And on election day, all our fellow citizens who’ve not been paying as close attention get to turn out and have their say. Some will undoubtedly vote for Cain; many will vote for Paul. Bachmann and Santorum may get a few votes, too. (There’s one in every crowd.)
But the winner? That’s probably going to be somebody we clueless media people have identified as a front-runner, people such as Mitt Romney or maybe Rick Perry.
If you doubt me, why not ask somebody with no reason to lie, such as Tim Pawlenty?
Of course, I could be wrong, and if I am, I’ll readily and publicly own up to being clueless. But let’s be honest: I’m not.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist, and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or email@example.com.